Let It Be: contradiction to despair #9

Aslan, the Lion, turned up at crucial points in CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe books. Once He chased after Lucy, one of the child heroes, who was riding on a horse across a desert and nipped her bottom because she wasn’t getting the job done.

Today Aslan has been gnawing on my inards. Well, he’s sent other messages, which I’ve ignored. This one is not to be ignored. I have to change my ways.

One of the messages appeared on a tiny sand beach on Lake of Bays in Muskoka. I found it when I went to look for the puppy. He had been quiet too long. Any mother knows that is a danger sign. He is a sheep dog mostly beige with brown and tan and black markings and white legs. I found him in front of a Muskoka chair, dug well into the sand, sound asleep, almost invisible. He had dug the hole while he waited for his human, a 13-year-old girl, to come back on her kayak. She was taking too long and he had fallen asleep on his watch.

Back in the cottage, I found a 6-year-old girl in a red sundress asleep on the couch, her thumb in her mouth. Too much sun.

Upstairs, I gazed out my bedroom window at the maple woods, rising to the ridge above the lake. Last evening, it had been lashed by heavy rain. I had cranked the window open to hear the rush and fall of the water. Surely, there is no greater pleasure than to be safe and dry with a good book during a summer storm.

There were 11 of us at the cottage, my sister, Georgia’s family, four generations. The oldest was 82, the youngest 4, teenagers, mother, grand parents and Georgia, great grandmother. I’m aunty. There are many delights to be had while playing aunty. Being bed-crashed by a 4-year-old who calls you “Poopyhead” with great glee, being overwhelmed by a full description of family ancestry by a solitary breakfast companion, sitting by a campfire with a man who loves to build one and took it upon himself to know when the fire ban was lifted (cf heavy rain).

It was a family, so there were also sulks, parental irritation, crying jags, defiance, sudden loud explosions of joy, differences of opinions and mild panic over wandering dogs. There was to Georgia’s delight much book reading and some discussion.

There were DVDs but no television. One cell phone and computer were called into play for work, but not for long. I made one phone call. Well, two if you count the one my phone made on its own as it charged up. It was 4 a.m. in Brussels, but there was my brother sitting up in bed.

Aslan is on my case because of the other call. If you going to call someone to help them out, and let yourself get drawn in, you are not doing the job.

Worry was the problem. Apprehension about a negative outcome. How effective is worry? Can it change outcomes?

I have conducted this experiment countless times in my long life, and I can reliably report that worrying has never altered any outcome in the smallest way. It has had considerable effect on the present, however, and not a good one.

The alternative is awful.

Letting go. “Let go and let God”, so speaketh the fridge magnet. Which is fine if you have a fridge magnet’s faith. “Let it be” as John Lennon’s mother Mary told him. (No points for knowing how that turned out.) “Whatever will be, will be,” as the old song says. “No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

Just goes to show that I’m not in charge.

Isn’t that the point?

 

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Hope: contradiction to despair #7

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings…

Emily Dickensen

It took me a while to find this poem because I thought it said, Hope is a thing with a broken wing. A Freudian slip to be sure.

I started thinking about hope when Ian Tyson’s rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow came up on shuffle as I pulled into the No Frills parking lot. I first heard that song at age 6 when I saw The Wizard of Oz in 1942.

We Quebec children were not usually permitted to go to movies, ostensibly because of a fatal movie theater fire, but more likely because the Catholic Church held sway over the province’s morals and saw movies as corrupt. An exception must have been made in this case.

I was already enthralled by the black and white footage of the coming storm when Dorothy arrived in the Land of Oz and things burst into color. And then the music began.

I had found my answer.

The tornado of my home life offered no escape, no shelter. The cellar was just another place of danger. But now I knew that over the rainbow, there was hope and someday, like the bluebird, I would fly there.

It worked. More or less.

Much later, I learned that those who had five or even ten year goals were more likely to be happy and successful. At crucial points in my career, my personal life and my health care, I was asked about such goals. In other words, ‘Articulate your hopes.’ My instant response was “Beats me’, but, of course, I repressed that and made shit up.

So now I am old, not old old. I won’t be old old for 7 or 8 years, not even middle old, which I will be in 3 years. But old nevertheless. What are the possible goals of a hopeful 82-year-old? My immediate response, ‘Living to be 83’.

Until recently, I harbored a broken-winged hope that the world was evolving and becoming a better place, little by little. And that I had played a part in that.

Look what happened.

Now I’m reduced to the idea that life on this planet of pain is pendulum in nature – two steps forward, one step back. Or is it the other way around?

Really, this blog post is falsely advertised. It’s the old bait and switch. I have no faith that there is hope nor that it contradicts despair. In fact, hope of the over-the-rainbow kind is too broken to hold in hand. Yet I get up, stand up and go on, with no expectation of reward. Is it from some old hopeful habit or just an obstinate refusal to give in?

Wishful metaphors make fine poetry, but hope is a 4-letter word – patient, resolute, strong and defiant in the face of darkness.

 

 

 

Wine, Women and Song: contradiction to despair #6

So Apollo and Bacchus walked into a bar….

Well, actually, I walked into a bar. I was fleeing despair.

This particular stumble into the abyss was occasioned by a lost load of laundry. I hadn’t realized it was lost for a week. When I inquired about Lost and Found, I discovered my apartment building didn’t have one, but I might find my clothes in the laundry room garbage container. That’s where they were, down at the bottom of a bin big enough to hide my entire body. And half full of lint, empty detergent bottles and other nasty bits. I leaned in and liberated the garments, one by one, bare-handed.

I have owned three washers in my life and just as many dryers, I suppose. No longer. Another proof that I can not now count myself among the middle class. So what? So – the lower classes live at the behest of others, especially landlords and their agents, the dreaded resident Superintendent couple.

So I took myself to Shoeless Joe’s, my local franchised watering hole. I ordered a glass of white and a burger with salad, and opened Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing. A certain kind of poetry can bring me out of a funk if I persist at it. Leonard published this book in 2007 after he came down from Mount Baldi and gave up his munkish pursuit of enlightenment. Around this time, he discovered he had been robbed blind, although I doubt he found himself losing a load of wash in a laundry room. Or failing to realize that for a week.

So Apollo, Greek God of poetry sat beside me, in the guise of my friend Leonard. (See https://115journals.com/2018/03/08/leonard-and-i/ ‎) A dear friend had bought me this book at Shakespeare and Company across the street from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I started reading again from the beginning.

When I drink
the $300 scotch
with Roshi
it quenches every thirst
a woman lies down with me

A high-pitched shriek breaks in. It is a sports bar. The world cup of soccer, FIFA, is happening in Europe. No, all visible screens are showing golf – a guy putting a ball not very close to a hole. A NASCAR interview. What must be a hockey replay.

I try another poem:

You’d sing too
if you found yourself
in a place like this
….

Several screams of delight, not all female. The bar itself is rectangular. I am sitting at a two-person booth at one corner. The screamers must have their backs to me. Suddenly, a woman in a tight white dress showing a lot of back skin, throws both arms straight up and utters another bacchanalian shout of joy. What!!! She turns and throws her arms around the guy on her right, kisses his neck and says, “I love you.”

My food arrives. I let the book fall shut as I begin to eat. I observe the crowd. On the left of the woman is a thin man in his late 50s with a moustache. Beside him is a First Nations fellow wearing a Harley Davidson t-shirt, sleeves cut to show off his muscles and tats. Closer to me is another thin, late 50s man with a grey moustache, who could be a twin to the one on the left. Around the corner is a guy, who doesn’t look like the shrieking type with his buxom lady. There are 3 or 4 more, apparently all part of the same constellation.

No one is watching television, yet every so often one or another erupts in a shriek, although only the woman in white throws up her arms in true I’m-having-a-G.D.-good-time fashion. When she does, she shows off her little pot belly.

I’m a proponent of non-age-appropriate clothes. At my advanced age, I am wearing an Alice-in-Wonderland straw hat. In a bar. Wear what you can get away with. This girl is pushing the limit, sartorially and otherwise.

It is a fluid group. Women go out to the patio, leaving their purses hanging on the back of the bar stools. Guys wander over to other guys, clasp them in fond embraces, assure each other of their love and exchange neck smooches.

Wait a minute! I’m in Meadowvale. I am in one of the squarest suburbs in the square city of Mississauga on the western edge of Toronto, which is not square only on Pride Weekend, which has come and gone.

The non-shrieking guy collects one of the abandoned purses and hangs it over his own shoulder. The woman in white sails in from the patio and spots a pair pushing a wheelchair-bound newcomer. Screaming in delight. she stands so close to me that we are almost touching. All four catch up at the top of their lungs.

I pick up my book and my tumbler of Chardonnay.

Slipping down into the pure land
into the Awakened State of Drunk
into the furnace blue Heart of the
one one one true Allah the Beloved
Companion of Dangerous Moods

“How is everything?” the tattooed waitress, with the extremely interesting cleavage, asks.

“Fine,” I reply, with only a slight eye roll. I set to on the salad.

They are still singing down at Dusko’s
sitting under the ancient pine tree,
in the deep night of fixed and falling stars.
If you go to your window you can hear them.
It is the end of someone’s wedding,
or perhaps a boy is leaving on a boat in the morning.

Cohen wrote this in 1967 on one of his Greek islands. I didn’t follow him to Greece for 7 years, and, even so, I didn’t get to the islands. Still I have heard singing on a beach across the gulf from Delphi. And eaten the small fish fresh from the sea. And found unsuitable love.

“Everything good?” asks the male manager.

“Yes,” I reply. “Everything is good.”

Bacchus, god of wine, wild reckless leader-astray of besotted followers has just paid a tangential visit to help his bro Apollo lift this despondent old girl out of her misery.

 

 

 

 

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Loose Lips: contradiction to despair #5

Despair like the mafia, my father and bullies in general demand silence. “You can’t do anything to stop me and if you do, I’ll kill you. Anyway, it’s your fault.” (See Never Tell, my memoir of childhood joycehowe.com) Convinced of the hopelessness of speaking, we fall silent.

Quite the opposite is true. Loose lips, where depression is concerned, sinks the ship of despair.

Talking is just a riff on union with the divine or connection, assuming a more earthly contact. A phone is a useful tool.

The listener needs no training, except in the art of silence and the odd encouraging remark – how do you feel about that. While it’s hard listening to an hour of weeping and absolute despair, -wine helps, or half an Atavan – it is rewarding because the speaker eventually runs down and may even say she feels better.

The depressed person is only required to voice her conviction that life is totally meaningless, unfair, unbearable and not to be endured, with specific examples drawn from the present at first and then from the dismal past.

There is one essential question: are you suicidal?, followed by what plan have you made? Once this is on the table, strategies can be developed. Such strategies do not involve, “You can’t do that!” They need to be practical and effective. Once a Salvation Army officer sat with me far into the night until I was too tired for self-harm.

In those days, I was too far gone for my immediate family, but suicide hotlines were there 24/7.

In less exigent circumstances, your best friend is your journal. “Dear Constance”, one of my creative writing students began each of her mandatory journal entries. I didn’t actually read these entries, although, as I recorded journal completed, I noted the salutation. I have a 6-ft-high bookcase filled with 159 journals, written between phone calls. After many years, I write less, call less and listen more.

Life’s a bitch. But hang on. Lean on me. Lean on you. Let’s make it through.

Ecstasy: contradicting despair #2

Good sex and union with the divine are two reliable ways to achieve ecstasy. Or maybe just one, when you think about it.

Some people seem to be born ecstatics. They make good poets. I had a friend like that, but western pharmaceuticals were able to cure it.

(Sorry, I slipped momentarily into one of the other great contradictions of despair – bitter humor.)

I’m taking it for granted here that I don’t have to explain despair, why, for example, W.B. Yeats wrote, The world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Leave a comment below if you feel I am wrong in this assumption. I will be glad to explain  human suffering, personal and social. That will mean a personal sacrifice because I am writing about these contradictions in order to avoid doing that.

The Sufis whirl in prayerful adoration of God. The 13th century poet, Rumi, born in Afghanistan, was a Sufi. His poetry has become widely known lately through modern translations like those by Coleman Barks. When the Black Dog of depression is shaking me by the back of my neck, I prescribe myself the rereading of Rumi: The Book of Love, to be taken 3 nights in a row at bedtime. I say 3 because I find, if I follow my advice, I forget to be miserable by the 4th.

Come to the orchard in spring
There is light and wine and sweethearts
In the pomegranate flowers

If you do not come, these do not matter
If you do come, these do not matter. 

Who comes or does not come, I cannot say. And yet …

Some of the Romantic poets have moments of ecstasy – Coleridge’s drug induced, Wordsworth’s more daffodill-ian. – but their broken hearts peek through in spite of resolute cries of Joy at that dawn it was to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven.

Others are flat out euphoric.

John Donne greets his wife, “And so good morrow to our waking souls/ That greet not one another out of fear. William Blake says, I love to rise on a summer morn. Emily Dickensen, I started early -Took my dog/ And visited the sea –

Teresa of Avila, a mystic who was canonized after her death in 1582, described the Devotion on Ecstasy as being where consciousness of the body disappears.

Leonard Cohen got the picture:
And so my friends, be not afraid
We are so lightly here
It is in love that we are made
In love we disappear.

Further contradictions to despair will follow.

 

 

Should You Hunt a Doppleganger?: Redhill’s Bellevue Square

Trinity Bellwoods, the model for Bellevue Square

In Michael Redhill’s Bellevue Square, Jean Mason decides to track down her double/look-alike/doppleganger. One of the customers at her bookstore reports he has just seen Jean with shorter hair and in different clothes in Toronto’s Kensington Market. He reacts violently when she denies it, and, eventually is found hanging in his apartment. He’s not the only one who sees the double and ends up dead.

Jean sets out on a quest to find this other woman, who’s name is apparently Ingrid Fox, and who, it turns out, is a mystery writer.

I felt almost uniquely qualified to understand this book. (Not quite unique because my reading partner, Georgia, has the same sort of qualification.)

I can intentionally look at my image in a mirror, but if I inadvertently catch a glimpse of myself, I have to avert my eyes instantly because that’s not me I’m seeing. If I keep looking, I zone out or become dissociated. It’s as if the image is hypnotizing me. And, yes, I have had therapy. I have discovered hidden parts of me, particularly one – D, who led a life I didn’t remember. Not a very fun-filled one. A sober cult-ish life devoted to foretelling the future and trying to keep other cult-ish people out of trouble. With pretty much zero success! Knowing the future apparently does not change behavior.

Once I discovered D’s existence, I still had a long way to go before we got integrated enough that I stopped getting up in the middle of the night and putting on robes.

One thing I always knew was that I couldn’t just get rid of her. I had been assured that I was not psychotic -at great expense- but I always sensed that I could become mad if I tried to cut off D. or any of her lesser sisters.

Jean has a somewhat different problem, autoscopy. Something is wrong with her brain, somewhere between the temporal lobe and the ear. (There are several people with damaged brains in the story, oddly in the same area.) This disease causes sufferers to externalize their self-image.

In an effort to achieve integration (my interpretation), Jean begins neglecting her bookshop, her two sons and her ex-policeman (or actual police chief) husband Ian to search for Ingrid. She does this by sitting in a park, Bellevue Square, where Ingrid has been sighted. There she relates to the park’s habituées – eccentric, drug-addled, mad but lucid and just plain mad.

But she doesn’t find Ingrid. Not until the end of Part 1, when Katarina, who sells pupusas in Kensington Market and was the second person to report the doppleganger is shot. Jean is the main suspect. Only then does she spot Ingrid crossing the park. As she follows, Jean wonders if Ingrid is “the harbinger of her death”.

Then we discover Jean is actually a university lecturer who has vanished from her classes, and her husband, Ian, seems to have a problem with her owning a bookstore.

Things get weird. Jean has a mirror experience: she sees herself but she’s not in the room. While she gets closer to Ingrid -entering her home and making a gorilla sandwich for Ingrid’s daughter, and discovering Ingrid has a boo-boo in her head – she gets farther from herself. Finally, she ends up in a hospital bed, coming out of unconsciousness.

My reading partner, Georgia, said initially that she must be too stupid to understand the book. Then as we talked, she hypothesized that everyone besides Jean was really Jean. Even Jimmie, whom she breaks out of CAMH, the mental health clinic, and who goes with her on a long hazardous flight to a northern woods. There he seems to abandon her and she finds herself more than ever lost.

Obviously, the book is about identity and fluid identity at that. Jean is following breadcrumbs in a quest for herself. Does she succeed? Maybe the next book in this three part series Modern Ghosts will tell us.

I am a little worried about Michael Redhill, considering what happens to Inge Ash Wolfe in the novel, since that is his pseudonym when he writes mysteries. Maybe he just integrated Inge and Michael and all will be well with one author identity.

Bellevue Square must mean something. It won the Giller prize of $100,000. Perhaps Georgia, D and I aren’t up to the job after all.

Full Disclosure: Initially, I published Never Tell, my e-memoir, under the pseudonym of Joyce Hood, as I did this blog. I have reverted to Joyce Howe, now that all the cult-ish types are either gone or toothless.

Coming soon to an Amazon near you Hour of the Hawk, a mystery by Joyce Howe

 

The Great Loneliness

Churchill called it the Black Dog

Churchill called it the Black Dog

The great loneliness fell upon me without warning.

True it was Saturday night, the loneliest night of the week, according to Sammy Cahn. True I had just watched Piper’s boyfriend break up with her on the phone, after dissing many of her fellow inmates on NPR and telling her who actually turned her in. True Jamie Fraser,s cousin, Simon, had just died of a musket wound, but Jamie had gone to the British lines under a flag of truce to bid him goodbye in Gaelic. Still it was very sad. I hadn’t spoken to another human being all day. I had phoned but everyone was out. The sky had been heavily overcast when I opened the curtains at 8:30, there was ten minutes of sunshine around noon, but at 3 p.m., I closed them against the gloom.

I shut off the iPad and An Echo in the Bone. I disappeared the TV and sat down on the couch. Winter loomed, months of lost light and cold, days of being shut in by ice and snow. I didn’t even get to my impending mortality before one of the women upstairs broke down, crying “it’s not funny”. I got up to get a glass of water and dropped one of my favourite glasses onto a pyrex bake dish soaking in the sink, smashing it into seven sharp pieces. As I put the wrapped shards into the garbage, the other upstairs resident drove away.

Right, you can feel the great loneliness even if you have a spouse. I knew that. I had felt that lonely before my husband left.

You can feel it in the midst of your family. When I first found myself suddenly on Pine Mountain, I would sit in bed with the curtains open, watching the steep wooded slope, the moon waning above. I was longing for home and the familiar, my no-view first floor flat. If I had known that the family emergency would keep me on the mountain for five months… I didn’t and I fell asleep before the loneliness got well established.

Usually, the year end holidays keep it at bay at least until mid January. You can armour yourself against it even then. I can usually con myself that winter is manageable until a month later, at which time I begin to snivel and consider throwing myself down in a tantrum, but unobserved tantrums are over-rated.

This particular bout of great loneliness follows upon the great good fellowship of family achievement. Four of us together handled a serious illness and a traumatic change in an elder’s life. Elder even than me, which is very elder indeed. In the last five weeks, we broke through to a relaxed and healing companionship. We were going to live after all.

Then I had to come home. Not only did I need to come home. They needed me to. Marriages go better without mother and elders need to feel self-sufficient.

My brother rushed from Brussels to help me make the transition from sunlight and altitude to gloom and sea level. He took one look at me, declared I was not destroyed by my ordeal as he expected. He didn’t actually have to save my life this time. If I had gone to Brussels, as I did last Christmas, I would have been his chief concern, feted by his many friends and his family. Here he has to be shared. This weekend is someone else’s turn.

I used to think I could fight the great loneliness by sheer willpower, by talk therapy, journaling, acupuncture and long walks, identify the aberrant mental attitude and contradict it. Stick up post-its with affirmations on the bathroom mirror. It was exhausting. Now I take psychotropic drugs.

But it’s a long game. I am old enough to know just how long.

Sure, I need to feel needed, as Orange is the New Black has just assured me and for the present, I am not. I wasn’t needed for years, but I’m glad I persisted until I was. Lives depended on it. So here I am again, under-needed and sulking about it.

In fact, old bodies need to rest at this time of year, so home needs to turn into a cave for long sleeps. It is a time to turn away from the outer darkness to the light within.

Having said that I see that the moon is full.

full moonmtn

 

A Change Would Do You Good

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ikjmz_SlGh
Cheryl Crow’s song of the same name
black &white wallI flew back to Toronto on Monday and met my sister Georgia for dinner on Wednesday. I ordered Guinness. She had never known me to order beer. I felt like saying, “It’s not beer. It’s Guinness.” She had not expected that change, but she liked my new hair cut.

Blake, my ex-husband, took me out for dinner Friday. He made no comment when I ordered Honker’s Ale from Goose Island, but he did tell me I looked younger. True, I was tanned from 150 days of sun at 5,500 ft in California, where darkness and silence led me to sleep 10 or 11 hours a night. And I had spent hours sitting beside our patient reading while someone else made dinner. The last seven weeks as recovery proceeded were particularly relaxing.

On Friday, I decided that I hated my minimalist decor and began hanging all the pictures in storage, including a wall devoted to the family and another of Georgia’s colorful paintings of houses. This means that I am giving up on feng shui. I’m not supposed to have red, a  fire element, in my living room during the year of the horse. Georgia’s paintings are full of red. Besides feng shui wasn’t doing  any good. My year has had a deal of bad luck. Our patient had also used feng shui which did not protect her from recession, loss or extremely grave illness. Be that as it may, I prefer now to be creative and bask in the warmth of family fire.

Roberta's wallAt my desk, I rounded up all the receipts I have assiduously saved my entire life and trashed them. I have lived altogether too carefully. During the five months I was away, I didn’t get my mail, of course. I didn’t even listen to the messages on my land line until a month before I left and I couldn’t receive calls because my cell phone got no reception. There was absolutely nothing in the mail or in the messages that was important. Well, there was a thank you note for funeral flowers, pretty much a dead issue.

During my mountain sojourn, I talked about the cold as fall drew on and I adapted to cabins heated in the old way by wood or more modern pellet stoves, both of which meant cold mornings. I have hated being cold all my life. For years, I have included the weather at the top of my daily journal entries. Now I have stopped. At first, I glanced at the thermometer outside my kitchen window. But I’ve stopped doing that as well. I assume that for the foreseeable future it will be below freezing. Snow, ice and wind will be apparent when I open the curtains. What difference does it make? I am going to wear thermal underwear, a heavy sweater, a sheepskin hat and a long down coat whenever I go out. I don’t need to hear a forecaster scaring me silly.

Georgia and her friend, the people upstairs, Blake, my brother on the line from Belgium and others who have called have eased me back into life in Toronto. Not everyone has answered my “I’m-home call”. I am sad, but by their deeds, ye shall etc.

So out of a traumatic and potentially tragic situation, has come new life. As Aunt Mae would say, “Ain’t that grand?”